About Stitches

Monday 4th March 2024

Jonathan Blakeley in Stitches. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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A couple of days ago I went to the Hope Theatre in Islington to see writer and actor Jonathan Blakeley’s new play, Stitches, which he also performs. It’s a sensitive and subtle monologue about the life of Chloe, told from the cradle to the care home — from the POV of her teddy bear. Definitely original and intriguing. What’s immediately obvious is that this will not be a cuddly fantasy, but a much harder, more edgy experience. For a brief moment, when Blakeley introduces his teddy bear persona, a gift to baby Chloe from her grandmother, he seems sweet, decorated with a bright red ribbon. But soon his real character, more sweary, more down-to-earth, comes to the fore. After all, he sees himself as Chloe’s protector, so he has to be forceful — and he certainly is. He’s also rewarded with embraces, cuddles, ear stroking and a place in her bed. But even if, as an object, the teddy doesn’t change much, except getting a bit worn and scruffy (all those kids pulling him and throwing him around until he needs his stitches sewn again) the same can’t be said for Chloe. As she grows up — childhood anger, first period, loss of virginity, sexual jealousy, drug taking, going to university, bad sex, marriage — her teddy is there as a mute witness, and an object of consolation in times of stress. And although the adult Chloe puts away childish things, this childhood friend is needed once again when she ages and suffers dementia. Some passages beautifully and economically describe the suffering of patients with this condition, and there’s a deep emotional truth here about how in old age our links with our childhood selves become a strong core, and how an intimate object such as a favourite toy can exert a powerful grounding force. Our identity can be a fusion of child and senior mediated by a well-loved stuffed animal. Blakeley’s energetic performance communicates not only the teddy’s powerful personality, but also shows how he can be a comfort as well as a protector. In director Samantha Pears and designer Constance Villemot’s 75-minute production, the actor engages directly with the audience, making us laugh and connecting our emotions with his. We not only get a good sense of this toy’s unique personality, but also a good idea of Chloe’s life, especially her latter loneliness and fragility. It’s a piece written with a mixture of subtlety and in-yer-face directness, as well as acute insight and, yes, love. Blakeley’s stage presence is such a compelling mixture of fierceness and consolation that, when I got home, I just had to have a good chat with my own childhood teddy. And yes, my one tells me he will always be there if I need him.

© Aleks Sierz

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